I See, But I Do Not Observe: My MCAD Experience

(Please excuse the obscure Sherlock reference in my title. I could not think of a better one lol)

Before I begin, I would like to prove that I did in fact go to the exhibit. Here is an existential selfie.

2013-07-31 12.35.19

If my face turned you off, here is another picture. This one is of my blockmates and I in front of one of the exhibits.

2013-07-31 12.34.48

Anyway, enough of the existential pictures. Time to get down to business.


We wake up every morning by waking up by opening our eyes and seeing our bedroom ceiling. But what does it mean to actually “see?” It’s funny how a simple word can have such a deep and varied meaning. The Oxford Dictionary of English partially defines it as “to perceive with the eyes,” “become aware of something from observation, ” and also ” to experience or witness an event or situation.” But again these definitions explain just part of the total experience we call “seeing.” For me, “seeing” something isn’t just an limited to an ocular experience. For example, bats can “see” using echolocation. It’s more than just our brains’ interpretation of the light bouncing off of objects and onto our retinas. It’s more of acknowledging something’s existence, giving it meaning, and reacting appropriately to it. “Seeing,” for me, is observation + perception + reaction.

The heavy rain that morning didn’t do well to set up my mood for the day. I didn’t feel like going to the MCAD anymore because it would mean that I had to walk through the flooded streets of Taft whilst toting an umbrella around. To be totally honest, the exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) underwhelmed me. I was led by false pretense from the posts I had seen on their Tumblr account. I was expecting to see grandiose displays of dystopian contemporary art. Instead, I saw photographs and various video installations. It was not what I was expecting at all, so I felt a bit let down. I walked into the MCAD, and a huge space in the middle was empty and I was like “is this it?” However, the ambiance was relaxing because the place was so cold and quiet. I swear I could hear my footsteps echoing in the building as I walked towards some of the other exhibits.

I spent about an hour and fifteen minutes in the museum – longer than I had expected, really. I was very bored during my stay in the museum. Also very cold. I could see the amusement and wonder in the faces of my companions, while most of the other people were just chatting with their peers.  I did not feel the appeal of the video installations. I thought museums were about physical, tangible objects on display. I was wrong, apparently. About forty-five minutes in, I started to feel hungry. This made me feel more disinterested in the exhibit. There were only two installations that really caught my attention, Dialogues on Discrepancy by Piyasak Ausup:

2013-07-31 12.11.55

and the series of buildings printed on newspaper by Pattara Chanruechachai:

2013-07-31 12.06.24 2013-07-31 12.05.15 2013-07-31 12.04.17

The first one made me feel sad for the people surrounding the demolished building. I felt so sorry for them, thinking that the building was their home and now they have nowhere to live. This was how I analyzed the picture, I was so shocked when Miss revealed to us that the people in hijabs were actually photoshopped onto the picture. It made me feel like a fool, having believed that those people were actually from that place, but at the same time amazed at the artist for thinking of that concept. The mere fact that the picture impressed upon me a feeling of sorrow for something that didn’t actually happen or exist made me question what else in that exhibit was deceiving my initial impression of it.

As it turned out, there was an entire series of photographs that fooled me all along. The three photographs of the buildings were the first thing I saw upon entering the museum. But it wasn’t until the guide pointed it out that I noticed they were actually printed on newspaper. I was like:

tennant ohhhhhh

I thought they were just photos of regular buildings printed in grayscale and mounted on the wall. When asked what we thought it meant, I thought that it was representing how the media was “covering up” the ugliness of the society. I felt like I saw the pictures, but never really understood why they were like that. I saw them for their façade, not for what they truly mean. As the title of my post would suggest, I saw, but did not observe. 

I left the exhibit 20 minutes before my next class in Yuchenco. It was still gloomy and raining outside, the burgur I had purchased from McDo did not fully satisfy my hunger. I looked around while I was walking back to Taft. Seeing the contrast between the super posh SDA and its surrounding area made me think. The SDA felt like a safe place, it was as if it was separated from the poverty just outside its doors. But upon leaving the place, it was like being thrust upon a different world. It was hot despite the rain, the road was muddy, people were busy walking towards their destination. It made me wonder if Utopia is truly possible here in the Philippines, or do we just have to construct enough safe houses in society to make it feel like the dystopia doesn’t exist. Could the exhibit’s tagline, Dystopia now, Utopia never actually be true?

Let’s say for a moment that I was an artist who had to put up a piece of work for the MCAD. Let’s say that they commissioned me to make an artwork that would represent what “seeing” really was. For one thing, the artwork would look like it was drawn by a 5-year old. For another thing, it would probably look something like this:

Photo Aug 12, 2 13 46 AM

“Seeing” is a multileveled and multifaceted thing. One perspective could be totally different from another, and some people may “see” thing deeper than others. I interpret “seeing” as a hierarchal inverted pyramid, kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You cannot proceed to the next “deeper” level without going through the preceding one.

The most basic “seeing” involves just perception – acknowledging the thing’s existence by placing it on the foreground of your attention. To see at this stage would be to believe the thing exists in your perspective. The next level would be understanding what that thing is. This is to dig deeper and find out more information about the thing by observing it or using the other senses. Next, would be valuing the thing. What does the thing mean to you? Here, you examine how the thing affects how you feel, how you think, etc. After that would be action. What would you do with the thing? Now that you know how it affects you, what will you do in response? After going through those levels, only then can one “see” the thing in totality. I made the drawing 3-Dimensional because other people may look at the same thing, but “see” a different side on a completely different level.

Seeing is something we all take for granted. It is something we do not tend to dwell on because it is such a basic component in our lives. Seeing is how we make sense of our world, it would be silly to think so little of something that means so much to us as human beings.


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